By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Washington Stealth’s disappointing 2012 National Lacrosse League season ended April 28 at Comcast Arena with a 17-16 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bandits.
Could that have been the Stealth’s final game in Everett?
The team’s three-year lease with Comcast Arena ends June 30. Denise Watkins, who owns the team along with her husband, Bill, made it clear their desire is to keep the franchise in Everett. “Our preference is to stay there in that building,” she said.
But it may not be that simple.
The Stealth and Comcast Arena can agree to pick up the five-year option on the lease, but if that’s going to happen “there are a couple of things that have to be negotiated,” Stealth president David Takata said.
The Stealth have lost money in each of their three seasons in Everett, Takata said. The team would like the arena to lower the $18,000-per-game fee it charges, and help promote sponsorships and group sales. The Stealth also would like an opt-out clause in case the team does not see an increase in ticket sales.
“We haven’t decided on anything yet,” Takata said. “We have to do a full postseason review and go over the budget and make some decisions moving forward.”
The Stealth have three options, Takata said: continue to play in Everett, continue to operate but relocate, or suspend operations.
“Our preference is to go forward as the Stealth in the NLL, whether that means in Everett or elsewhere,” he said.
Takata is taking a look at all the numbers from the past two seasons and planned to make a presentation to the ownership this month. At that point, it will be up to the Watkins to make their decision.
The Watkins relocated the Stealth from San Jose to Everett before the 2010 season and Denise Watkins said she doesn’t want to keep pulling up roots. “It really isn’t helpful and I’m not inclined to keep moving the team,” she said.
Comcast Arena general manager Kim Bedier wants the Stealth to stay.
“Absolutely,” she said. “They have been great to work with. We sure hope that they can make the commitment moving forward.”
The Stealth have not seen ticket sales grow as rapidly as expected. By now, the team hoped to be drawing 5,000-6,000 fans per game, Takata said. The Stealth averaged just 3,903 fans over their eight homes games in 2012, well below the league average of 9.469.
The Stealth saw a 10-percent increase in revenue from their first year in Everett to their second, but just a 3 percent increase this past season, Takata said.
According to Denise Watkins and Takata, the NLL teams that have the most success are usually tied to a National Hockey League team in the same city. Perhaps the best example is the Buffalo Bandits, who consistently draw 10,000 fans for home games. The Bandits and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres offer bundled ticket packages that include tickets to both teams’ games. NLL teams in Denver and Calgary also have connections with the NHL teams in those cities.
Recent talk of a new sports arena in Seattle that would house both an NHL team and an NBA team has caught Denise Watkins’ attention.
“I’d be thrilled to have a connection to any Seattle hockey team that is or isn’t coming and we are actively pursuing that,” she said. “Personally, I think that would make a dynamite combination.”
Watkins also acknowledged such a move doesn’t appear to be imminent and the Stealth still have to figure out what their immediate future holds.
Both Takata and Watkins said the team’s 2012 performance could have some effect on ticket sales, but both agreed that wins and losses aren’t the deciding factor in ticket sales. That belief is perhaps bolstered by the fact that the attendance for the final game of the season was 3,770 — the fifth-largest crowd of the season — despite the fact the Stealth had already been eliminated from playoff contention.
“I think (losing) had something to do with it,” Takata said. “But I think there is probably too much attention given to wins and losses in sports. It certainly matters long-term.”
But the losses haven’t been a long-term problem for the Stealth. Before the collapse of 2012, they played in the NLL championship game in each of the previous two seasons, winning the title in the team’s first season in Everett in 2010.
One thing is certain, the losing doesn’t sit well with Denise Watkins.
“We are personally competitive people,” she said. “So why would we own a sports team if we didn’t want to win?”
The future of the Stealth in Everett will be decided over the next few weeks. Watkins would not put a percentage on the likelihood of returning, but she sounded optimistic.
“The chances are good,” she said. “We’re not at the point yet where we have to say we are done with it.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.